Agrippa’s Trilemma and the Meaning of Life

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The meaning of life is that it is to be lived, and it is not to be traded and conceptualized and squeezed into a pattern of systems.— Bruce Lee

Google “the meaning of life” and 1,260,000,000 results appear. It’s safe to say that this is a mystery many folks want to figure out. As with many other existential questions – like where do we come from?, what are we?, and where are we going? – the questions of what is the meaning of life is likely unanswerable.

Or, better yet, it likely has as many answers as there are humans on the planet. Despite his recent negative news coverage (some of it deserved, some of it not), Joe Rogan does have interesting and thoughtful guests on his podcast. Surprisingly, or maybe not if I were paying closer attention, Mike Tyson was an awe-inspiring guest, who had a thoughtful response about discipline that really made me reevaluate how I tackle my own self-discipline.

For the purposes of this piece, I recently saw a LinkedIn post with a minute clip of Rogan interviewing Naval Ravikant, a successful entrepreneur and investor. In the discussion, Ravikant brought up Agrippa’s Trilemma, also known as the Münchhausen trilemma.

Essentially, the Trilemma sets out to ask “is it possible to prove any truth?” Essentially, according to the argument, no, it is impossible to prove the validity of an argument. Ironic, no???

Broken out, the Trilemma states no argument is provable because the why can never be answered because of the following flaws:

  1. Circular Reasoning: A logical fallacy in which the reasoner begins with what they are trying to end with. “A is true because B is true; B is true because A is true.” Example: The HR Director told us lying to the boss is bad. Why is lying to the boss bad? Because the HR Director told us. So, lying is bad!
  • Infinite Regress: Those who have children can likely relate to this next example, or those who have an employee who is never satisfied with your response! A child asks a question. The parent gives a response. The child asks “why,” and the parent answers. The child asks “why,” and the parent answers. This continues FOR-EV-ER! The answer in the loop only exists because of the previous answer, and there is no answer that “why” cannot be a response.
  • Axiomatic Statements: This is a statement that is taken to be true, to serve as a starting point for further reasoning and arguments. It is a statement that doesn’t require proof! It is self-explanatory! You have likely heard conversations where someone says – maybe you – “it’s common sense.” Common sense demands that the person is aware of and familiar with certain things in the environment! Another is anything to do with “God” or religion. Maybe the “math says this” or “science says this.” When we hear these statements, we are to assume that what follows, or preceded, is true based on pre-existing knowledge that doesn’t require any other proof!

I will ironically ask, why is all this important? Raag Trivedi writes it is because of epistemology, or the study of how humans acquire knowledge and justify our arguments.

“We live in times where we are surrounded by all kinds of news. Media is playing a strong role on the global platform. Epistemology as a field, stresses on the importance of research and fact-checking for the individual. While we have the presence of media to provide us with information and shape our opinions, we should not alienate ourselves from this process.”

These ideas are important in the field of human resources, especially logical Fallacies –flawed, deceptive, or false arguments that can be proven wrong with reasoning. Knowing logical fallacies can help you to navigate future disputes with bosses and colleagues without descending into anger or judgement. By building better arguments and recognizing flaws in others’ logic, your work will be enhanced along with the organization!

Also important is the idea of how people learn! Today, we read article after article about how the future success of all organizations hinges on the training provided to employees, managers especially. Knowing how people learn best is the key to ensuring that these trainings don’t end up as fun exercises that are quickly forgotten once they leave the training room and reenter the workplace.

For what it’s worth, I currently believe the meaning of life is to live. It’s that simple in my mind. We are put on this earth, or we randomly find our selves on this earth, so we should make the most of it while we’re out and about! Just live. Do good by you and yours, and don’t hurt others. Ultimately, however, that seems easier said than done for many – yours truly included.

People are flawed. Fallible. It’s best to let them find their own truth, so long as it’s grounded in some form of logic and reasonableness. Unless you’re the Pope speaking ex cathedra. Shrug!

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Published by Paul LaLonde

Husband. Father. Passionate about HR, helping people, and doing the right thing. Also, heavy metal, craft beer, and general nerd things! #SHRM19Blogger. Find me on Twitter at @HRPaul49 and LinkedIn. Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

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